Obedience to (Usurped) Authority?
I am grateful for Your faithful guidance, Holy Spirit!
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.Romans 13
I have probably mentioned it before. This passage has troubled me, since I first read it, many years in the receding past. I also can’t count the times I have been pointed to it by well-meaning Christians, telling me – no matter what – we are required to do what governing authorities tell us, because they are ordained by God. I have a few problems with this simplistic assertion. Let’s first admit that Paul, the author of the Roman Epistle, was no stranger to overbearing government, to Rome’s crucifixions and many other abuses. This passage was probably written eight to ten years before Nero’s worst treatment of Christians and it is not clear how much of Nero’s descent Paul was alive to observe. At any rate, there is little chance Paul was blindly optimistic about about all government. He was in prison for his faith, after all.
However, what type of government is Paul describing as “ordained of God”? Explicitly, one that rewards good behavior and punishes evil behavior; one who ministers the good of God and executes wrath upon the evildoer.
How, then, does a government that rewards or facilitates evil and punishes Godly behavior and conscience reflect on the Creator if we believe such a power is “ordained” by Him? If we believe such an interpretation, what does that tell us about the nature and character of the Ordainer? It took me a long while to recognize that the stance that any and all governing authorities are put in place by God is an outgrowth of the Calvinist theology that everything that happens is enforced by Sovereign God, conveniently absolving men of any responsibility and casting God as dictatorial and less than loving.
I digress. Don’t just think about our current government, rushing headlong to tyranny though it be. Consider also Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, to name a few recent examples. Did God ordain the torture and murder of more than six million Jews (and others) under the Nazis and their collaborators? By no means is the Holocaust the only example of government-sponsored genocide. Stalin may have outdone Hitler. The number of deaths during Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” tallied forty-five million souls between 1958 and 1961. I was between four and seven at the time, but I don’t remember anyone speaking of it.
No, I firmly believe the thirteenth chapter of Romans describes the proper function of government; that which God ordains. It does not follow that no other type of government can exist. Governors have free will, like all the rest of us. Malevolent behavior in government authority can exist as easily as it can in the heart of the individually governed. If we don’t believe that, then we have put 1 John 1:5 to naught:
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.1 John 1:5
A second point that I might make takes it stand, along with Peter and John, called before Annas the high priest and his cohort:
18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.Acts 4
One who resists the powers-that-be ought to never loose sight of the fact that the government “bears the sword”, as we read in Romans 13. That fact applies whether the government is of the God-ordained type, or the usurped-by-hell variety. Peter and John received a brutal beating (for which they rejoiced). There will be a cost for resistance.
Consider this passage from the Psalms:
4 For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation. 5 Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. 6 Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; 7 To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; 8 To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; 9 To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord.Psalm 149
That two-edged sword is a reference to the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). He who would resist had best be in constant, intimate communication with God. Consider the term “bind” in light of these words of Jesus:
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”Matthew 16:19
This is work to be done in fervent prayer, offered in full knowledge and conviction of the Word. In the end, we have the government we will accept. We will be victors, or we will be victims.
On the other hand, if in the flesh we take a stand opposing government, we risk a perilous trap:
But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.2 Peter 2:10
Want to know how to pray? Proper government is available within. The immigration policy is straightforward and there is no waiting period.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.Isaiah 9:6-7
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.Revelation 3:19-21
Will you open?